1949 Gnome Rhone Touriste Luxe
Duralumin Aluminium Bicycle
In the thirties, some small French firms – ‘constructeurs – started to specialise in custom-built lightweight machines, making perhaps only a few dozen such machines a year that cost the equivalent of three months professional wages. This was the heyday of French styling, when bicycles were treated with the same respect given to works of art. Other companies used similar techniques but managed to reduce the labour-intensive costs to sell their products to a wider market. Duralumin is twice the strength of aluminium, despite being light in weight, and was originally designed for use in Zeppelin airships and early aircraft. It was obviously a practical choice of metal for such machines.
Combined with copper, manganese and magnesium, the strength of aluminium was comparable to steel, and it became popular in the late 1930s in France for building bespoke bicycles. The aluminium frames were not soldered or welded but the tubes are fitted into lugs by screwing, pressing or glueing. As a result, very light weights could be achieved. The weight of this one, for example, is around 11kg / 24lbs. Gnome Rhone was one of half a dozen or so French firms who made their name with elegant aluminium machines.
This is a top quality machine in excellent unrestored original condition.
The components and accessories are all upmarket items, and the front carrier has a period pannier with a map sewn into the top …a primitive GPS 🙂
Inside the pannier is a set of tools as well as a yellow jersey that its previous owner wore in Paris in 2003 for ‘La Randonnee du Centenaire’. I can find nothing to fault the Gnome Rhone except that the chain guard is missing. The steel rear triangle and front fork are original and unrestored cosmetically and contrast against the aluminium frame, which is also unrestored but obviously much more shiny. The previous owner (my friend Mike) had this lightweight touring machine for many years and rode it extensively. He kept it well serviced, and it’s ready to ride.